“The city takes its own pulse at this meeting in a very real way,” says David Perry, director of the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Great Cities Institute, which sponsors today’s Great Cities Winter Forum. “It’s different from the typical university forum. Here the university and the city engage in a conversation about the state of the Chicago region.” Today’s panels will address–among other things–balanced development, the effects of the No Child Left Behind Act, and how the affordable housing shortage may affect Chicago’s murder rate. Wellington Webb, Denver’s first African-American mayor and former president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, will give the keynote speech at noon. The tenth annual forum runs from 8 AM to 2 PM at the Chicago Circle Center, 750 S. Halsted in Chicago. Admission is $25 ($10 for students) and includes continental breakfast and lunch. To register call 312-996-8700 or see

Nonprofit organizations that oversee projects aimed at “historically neglected audiences” such as the elderly, undereducated, or poor are encouraged to apply for Illinois Humanities Council grants, which range from $2,000 to $10,000 and can be used to fund anything from literary symposia to documentary films. The next grant deadline is January 15; to demystify the process the IHC will offer a free grant workshop today from 10 to noon. It’s at 203 N. Wabash, suite 2020, Chicago; to register call 312-422-5580 or e-mail


The Zen Buddhist Temple resurrected the quarterly magazine Spring Wind: Buddhist Cultural Forum two years ago because after 9/11 “we thought we needed to get Buddhist insight out to the public,” according to a spokesperson. Tonight’s Zen Buddhist Temple Holiday Auction will serve as a fund-raiser for the glossy black-and-white magazine, which is sold via subscription and at bookstores and health food stores around the country. There’ll be a vegetarian buffet and live music, and the bidding starts at 7; items on the block include artwork, meditation courses, massage therapy, and theater tickets. The temple’s at 1710 W. Cornelia in Chicago, and there’s a suggested donation of $15 ($10 in advance). Call 773-528-8685 or see for more.

Colombia’s petroleum production has the potential to rival that of Venezuela–the second-largest supplier of oil to the U.S. Which, argues the new documentary Plan Colombia: Cashing-In on the Drug War Failure, could be one reason the U.S. has invested so heavily in military aid to that country. The film, narrated by Ed Asner, also asserts that U.S. aid prompted Colombian president Andres Pastrana to withdraw from peace talks with the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia in 2002 and notes that the amount of cocaine smuggled into the U.S. has doubled in the past decade. Chicago Media Action and Andersonville Neighbors for Peace cosponsor a screening of the film tonight at 8 at Chicago Filmmakers, 5243 N. Clark in Chicago. Tickets are $7; call 773-293-1447 or see the movie listings for more information.


Last year’s family-oriented Dance-Along Nutcracker was such a hit the city decided to add an adults-only evening performance this year. Led by Hedwig Dances’ Mei-Kuang Chen and emceed by Annoyance Theater cofounder Mark Sutton, the free event allows audience members to suit up in tutus and tiaras and dance to excerpts from the Tchaikovsky score and other holiday classics. The kid-friendly version starts today at 3 in the Chicago Cultural Center’s Preston Bradley Hall, 78 E. Washington in Chicago; grown-up time starts at 7. Live music will be provided by the Lakeside Pride Concert Band; call 312-744-6630 for more.

Organic Theater founder Stuart Gordon mounted Ray Bradbury’s The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit with Joe Mantegna at the Organic in 1973. Twenty-five years later, he made a film of it, with Mantegna in the same role. Today Gordon will show the film and talk about his life in showbiz in Chicago (where he cocreated the hit plays Bleacher Bums and E/R) and on the west coast. He’ll return on Monday, December 8, to discuss Jewish themes in film and theater, as well as his own new play, The Speaking Head and Other Scary Jewish Stories, currently running at Chicago Jewish Theatre. Sunday’s event begins at 3 at Temple Beth Israel, 3601 W. Dempster in Skokie; there’s a suggested donation of $3. Monday’s lecture starts at 8, also at Beth Israel. Admission is $5; call 847-675-0951 for more information.


The three poets behind the 674-page epic Phoebe 2002: An Essay in Verse envisioned their creation–an obsessively detailed response to the 1950 Bette Davis vehicle All About Eve–as something akin to the scene-by-scene commentary found on a DVD. “We follow the narrative and go all over the place,” explains Columbia College poet in residence David Trinidad. “It kept opening more and more doors.” He, Jeffrey Conway, and Lynn Crosbie spent three years writing the piece, which includes fairy tales and recipes as well as sonnets, haiku, villanelles, and ballads. Next, says Trinidad, “Lynn wants to do a musical based on Jacqueline Susann, Anne Sexton, and pill taking. But I’m a little collaborated out.” Con-way, Trinidad, and another Columbia poet in residence, Arielle Greenberg (standing in for Crosbie), will give a free reading of selections from Phoebe 2002 tonight at 5:30 at Columbia’s Conaway Center, 1104 S. Wabash in Chicago. Call 312-344-8138.


Last year the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s five Holiday Hop tours attracted some 350 participants. The mile-long tour of downtown decorations is “very festive,” says head docent Penny Shaw. “All the buildings are decorated for the holidays, and we also focus the tour comments on the architecture we’re seeing.” The route includes Marshall Fields, Carson’s, Symphony Center, the Palmer House, the Chicago Cultural Center, and the offices of architectural firm Lohan Caprile Goettsch. Today’s outing starts at 2 PM at the CAF’s ArchiCenter Shop, 224 S. Michigan in Chicago. Passes are $10, $5 for students and seniors; call 312-922-3432.


Former Neo-Futurist Greg Kotis conceived Urinetown, the Tony Award-winning musical he wrote with fellow Chicago expat Mark Hollmann, during a down-and-out ten days he spent in Paris–where you pay to use the public toilets. “It was raining. I was wet. I was miserable,” he told the Reader’s Jack Helbig in 2001. “I was trying to work it out: If I go now, I won’t go again until midnight. But what if I have to go before that? How much money would that leave me? Then I stopped dead in my tracks and the title for a show came to me: Urinetown.” Kotis and Hollmann hit town this week with Urinetown’s national tour, and are taking time out to revisit their roots. Tonight at 8 they’ll discuss their work–and perform songs written for the show that didn’t make the cut–at the Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland in Chicago; tickets are $15. On Friday, December 12, they’ll join in a reunion performance by the improv troupe Cardiff Giant, of which both were members. It’s also at 8 at the Neo-Futurarium; tickets are $12. Call 773-275-5255 for more information. Urinetown opens Tuesday, December 9, and runs through December 21 at Chicago’s Shubert Theatre, 22 W. Monroe. Tickets range from $26 to $75; call 312-902-4100 or see the theater listings for more info.


“Once I started digging, I found all kinds of angles,” says Arnie Bernstein, author of The Hoofs and Guns of the Storm: Chicago’s Civil War Connections, out this fall from Lake Claremont Press. During his year of research Bernstein was surprised to learn about “the deal making and political chicanery that got Lincoln nominated for president in 1860,” as well as the extent of Confederate support in Chicago and the horrors of Camp Douglas, where at least 6,000 Confederate prisoners of war died. He also discovered that John Wilkes Booth performed at the original McVicker’s Theater at State and Madison in May of 1863. “He took on a series of Shakespearean roles,” says Bernstein, “most fittingly, in ironic historical terms, the lead in Richard III.” Bernstein will give a free slide presentation tonight at 7 at the Oak Park Public Library, 834 Lake in Oak Park; call 708-383-8200.

“Food they really ate in the time and place of the first Christmas” is the theme of tonight’s installment of the Beans ‘n the Pot: What’s Cooking in History and Mystery series at Centuries and Sleuths Bookstore–which means no eggnog, fruitcake, or baked ham. Instead, Paul and Rebecca Zeissler will discuss and cook recipes from Faye Levy’s Feast From the Mideast: 250 Sun-Drenched Dishes From the Lands of the Bible. Expect something closer to lamb, hummus, and pita. It starts at 7:30 at the bookstore, 7419 W. Madison in Forest Park. Admission is $15, and reservations are required; call 708-771-7243 by December 9.